Something strange is happening in the School 89 cafeteria. One of the pig-out foods is broccoli. Instead of woofing down cheeseburgers, kids are eating salads. Even the teachers are banding together to eat healthy.
"Broccoli isn't bad if you put some cheese on it," said Cordell Brunell, a 12-year old student at the Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence. "I love pizza but you can't have it all the time; salads are a good lunch," adds Laura Ricotta, 13. "You got to remember the food pyramid."
School 89, which has about 800 students, is waging war against childhood obesity. Among the leaders in this battle for the hearts and stomachs of students are Mary Jo Conrad, the school's principal; Telly Forcucci, a physical education instructor, and the Buffalo Bills.
"One of our goals is to make nutrition and exercise a daily habit," Conrad said. "We're not just here to educate the mind, but also the body. We believe eating right and exercise can help a student with academics."
In September the Bills started a program called, "Eat right, exercise -- join the team," at the school, with help from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, Kaleida Health, and Upstate Farms.
Rusty Jones, the Bills director of physical development, regularly appears at the monthly assemblies and usually brings along a player.
Quarterback J.P. Losman showed up recently and talked the talk about chow and exercise.
"Eating right is important," Losman, 22, told the students. "You can't eat junk food every night. Fitness becomes a routine. The more you exercise, the easier it gets."
Losman found it easy to relate to the students about diet and exercise. He seemed a part of their generation. "I feel a lot like them," Losman said. "I look like them. I talk like them. I'm not that different and I hope they'll listen to me."
Forcucci believes the students will do so.
"A lot of these kids are looking for role models," the physical education teacher said. "When a Buffalo Bill comes to school and tells them to eat right and exercise, it means something to them."
One of Losman's messages was that no one is perfect when it comes eating and exercise. He admitted a craving for hot dogs and pancakes, "but you have to get back to healthy foods, and you can't let yourself go."
Losman broke his leg this summer and initially it took a toll on his physical conditioning. "Because I couldn't work out, I lost weight, about 10 pounds," said Losman, who stands 6-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs about 220 pounds. "An athlete knows his body. When I'm hurt and can't work out, I feel it in every pore on my face and in every muscle."
Students don't have to worry about that kind of physical intensity.
"We just want them to exercise, to get outside and do things," Losman said.
But that can be a problem, especially in the inner city.
"A lot of these kids can't go out at night because they don't feel safe," Forcucci said. "We try to get them to do as much activity as they can in school, and after school." The school has a number of after-school physical education programs.
The list of regular gym activities includes aerobics, dance, jump rope and roller blading. The school also has a swimming pool.
"We're trying to get beyond just the traditional sports," Forcucci said. "You don't have to be the fastest kid or the best athlete to exercise. The important thing is that you get out there and play."
Rusty Jones emphasized the relationship between accomplishment and physical conditioning.
"When you're young you feel invincible, but a lack of activity will bring disease," Jones told the students. He added they should stretch before exercising and also get away from television and video games and try to get outside as much as possible.
The first step in nutrition is to eat breakfast. "You've got to eat something in the morning," Jones said, adding young people should eat a variety of foods.
The benefits go beyond being healthy.
"Self-esteem has a lot to do with how you look and how you feel," Jones said. "Your nutrition and activity reflects in your outward appearance."
Teachers at School 89, like students, are working at physical fitness. Many have formed groups to focus on better eating habits. Even the principal is trying to kick a cola habit.
"We're all in this together," Conrad said, "because we know eating right and exercising makes a difference for all of us."